A Letter To My Loving Parents

Dear Mom and Dad,

Thank you.

Thank you for everything.

In the past three months, I have traveled the world in a way that you have always pushed me to do. You always encouraged me to see the world, to explore different places, to challenge myself to travel while I am still young. When I presented you with the idea of sending me away to Italy (and, it turned out, the rest of Europe) to study abroad, you supported me wholeheartedly. That might just mean the most to me: You challenged me to see the world, and when I came to you with an opportunity to do so, you (literally) put your money where your mouth was. I know raising me, the prodigal son, couldn’t have been easy nor cheap. But the opportunities that you have given me – opportunities maybe not granted to you as young adults – have given me memories and experiences that can’t be tied to a monetary value. For that, I am incredibly thankful.

In the past three months, I have done and seen things I thought would only be available to me through Google Images and Wikipedia. I have spent a week under the sun in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico learning the dangers of befriending the bartenders. I became a regular at the best Italian restaurant (in my opinion) in Padua. I ate my first gelato. I have climbed the Eiffel Tower and seen the Mona Lisa in the same day. I have eaten the world’s best pizza in Naples. I swam in the water off of the island of Capri as a small Italian man sang classic Italian songs. I have seen the ruins of Pompeii, complete with graves of people turned to stone. I have drifted down and between the canals of Venice in a gondola. I ate a tomato and some mushrooms; I still like neither. I went to my first European soccer game in Verona, as well as my first ever opera (well, maybe the first that I could appreciate). I took a picture of Michelangelo’s David in Florence and escaped free of handcuffs. I ate some more gelato. I drank a Heineken in Amsterdam and walked through the same rooms Anne Frank and her family hid in. I toured the Colosseum, threw change into the Trevi Fountain, and took a picture at the Pantheon. I didn’t see the Leaning Tower of Pisa, so you guys owe me one. I hiked through Cinque Terre, eating Italy’s purest pesto along the way. I went to an FC Barcelona game, and watched three of the team’s best players score goals in a win. I became a usual at Grom, cementing the fact that I need to hit the treadmill. I ate way too much pasta and pizza at every stage of my Italian travels (though I don’t regret it because it was the best pasta and pizza in the world). I ate my sixtieth – and final – gelato. I visited a castle in Edinburgh. I had a pie-and-a-pint during a pub-crawl in London, but not before I visited Big Ben, Buckingham Palace, and the Tower of London first. I did that all myself, but none of it would have been possible without you. For that, I will forever be thankful. Even though everybody likes to say that they have the best parents, they are probably wrong. I have the best parents, and I couldn’t have asked you guys to be any better than you already are.

In the past three months, I have become a more well-rounded, more adventurous, more confident person; I will hold back from calling myself a better person, but I cannot deny the experiences that you have made available for me have given me a better outlook on life. Sometimes you might feel like you missed a spot or two with me (like when I drive a little too fast on the highway or put my elbows on the table during dinner), but I am proud to say that I am the person that I am today because of the work that you have put into me and the love that you have shown me. As I write this from my seat on my flight home to you, I just hope that you know how much I love you. And also that you will be there to pick me up, dad. But mostly that you know how much I love you.

Love,

Wally

P.S. I bought you gifts. I hope you like them.

Thank You!!!!

Thank You!!!!

London: Pub Crawls, Afternoon Tea, Lion King, And More!

Three months ago, I was looking forward to day with excitement, knowing that even after Italy was over my time in Europe would still continue on. I was especially excited for London, a city that I had never been to yet had always wanted to visit. I’m not sure why I have always wanted to go to London — I suppose it could have been the pub scene or the Premiere League or the fact that they speak English there. All I know is that I have always wanted to go to London and I finally got to go.

Welcome to London, folks.

Welcome to London, folks.

And now it’s over. I think when you travel — especially to places you enjoy visiting — you live on 16-hour days and 5-day weeks; there is no other way to explain how everything goes by waaay too fast. If only I could stop time…

[Before I go any further, I need to stop and give a huge thank you to Vincent and Veronica Schoenfield for their incredibly hospitality. After spending the last three months in random hotels and hostels, it was nice to spend our time in London based out of a home, especially a home with two of the nicest hosts anybody could ask for and two of the cutest little girls in the world. There is no way that I could possibly pay back what Veronica's and Vincent's hospitality has meant to Courtney and I, as they were incredibly gracious in opening up their home to us weary travelers. They were also very helpful in getting us acquainted with the city, ready for the Tube, and feeding us. They have the kindest of souls, and if they ever read this and decide to send Sophia and Saskia away for a couple of weeks, whichever door I am living behind will be open to them. Thank you both again so much, Courtney and I greatly appreciated your kindness!]

For the sake of organization, I’m going to break up this post into sections. Courtney and I spent four days and five nights in London, so, unsurprisingly, we ran into a story or two.

The Sights of London:

We began our time in London with a tour of the city via the classic double-decker red bus. We hit all of the tourist hotspots: Buckingham Palace, the Tower of London, the London Bridge, the Tower Bridge, Big Ben, the Houses of Parliament, Westminster Abbey…it was a long first day. I am continually amazed at how much history can be found in cities throughout Europe; as much history as the United States has as a country, it pales in comparison to that found in the Romes and Londons of the world. I mean, London has a tea shop –Twinings, which, by the way, is very good — that is almost a century older than the United States as a country. That might not sound like substantial history, but it acts as a reminder as to how old everything really is in many prominent European cities.

Twinings, a family-owned tea shop since 1706. More than 300 hundred years of same-family ownership and really good teas.

Twinings, a family-owned tea shop since 1706. More than 300 hundred years of same-family ownership and really good teas.

The London Eye and Big Ben in one picture. I should be working for Getty Images.

The London Eye and Big Ben in one picture. I should be working for Getty Images.

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Big Ben.

Big Ben.

London Eye.

London Eye.

The Tower Bridge (aka the bridge that should be called the London Bridge but isn't).

The Tower Bridge (aka the bridge that should be called the London Bridge but isn’t).

As for the history found in the tourist spots that we visited, I could write a 50-page research paper about them. Instead, I’ll try to only focus on the main points. First off, I cannot get over the idea of Buckingham Palace — not only is it massive, but if you live there, you are the focal point of all of London. People write about your life daily, tourists circle your house like vultures over a carcass, and, if you’re lucky, you get to receive the distinction of being a king or queen at some of in your lifetime. Speaking of becoming king, let’s all take a moment of silence for Prince Charles, the 64-year old heir apparent to the throne. The only distinction he holds currently (other than being the Duke of Cornwall, if you think being a Duke is a big deal) is that of being the longest-serving heir apparent in Britain’s history. And in a couple years, he will be the longest-serving heir apparent in any country’s history. Good news: his mom is still living, which is always a plus. Bad news: he has spent all 64 years of his life waiting to hold a position he may only get to call his own for a third that time. So that’s probably a little bittersweet for him.

Selfie.

Selfie.

Westminster Abbey.

Westminster Abbey.

Because who doesn't want a cold one after hitting the barbershop?

Because who doesn’t want a cold one after hitting the barbershop?

As for all of the other places we visited, they were all pretty equally fascinating. Big Ben was, well, big. The Tower of London houses the Crown Jewels, as well as other historic remains and stories from London’s past (including the courtyard in which Anne Boleyn was beheaded in). The London Bridge was incredible boring; however, the Tower Bridge was much more interesting, and I can see why tourists would rather just be wrong and call it by its lesser counterpart’s name. I mean, seriously, London? This is your bridge? It’s going to take a little bit more than that to excite me, a young man boy who spent his childhood crossing the world’s greatest land-connecting apparatus, the Golden Gate Bridge. And this website seems to agree. (Almost. Though I will say, I have now been to that bridge and Florence and, as cool as it was, it is not on the same level of the Golden Gate. Sorry I’m not sorry, Italy.)

He wasn't very enthusiastic about this picture.

He wasn’t very enthusiastic about being in this picture.

Regardless of the inflated reputation of London’s most famous bridge (by name, at least), London is a city filled with history (albeit history that could be considered overly violent) and is just one more place that I am extremely grateful to have visited and learned about.

Not exactly a common sight, seeing the London Guards marching through the Tower of London. I could have touched one if I wanted to. It was awesome.

Not exactly a common sight, seeing the London Guards marching through the Tower of London. I could have touched one if I wanted to. It was awesome.

Riding The Tube:

The Tube is a great way to transport in and our of London and I think all major US cities (New York City, Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles, etc.) should invest and implement. It is incredibly easy, pretty fast, and relatively cheap. It is also safe, takes you to within a 10-minute walk of any place in London that you would need to be, and is always hosting at least one interesting person every ride. The Tube joins Italian piazzas as integral parts of everyday life in European countries that I wish I could bring back home. Check it out, America.

My first "tube!"

My first “tube!”

Our "home" tube station!

Our “home” tube station!

Pub Crawling:

You can’t really go to London without pub crawling at least once. Hopping from bar to bar, trying new and exciting beers, eating food that you probably shouldn’t; it’s all part of the experience. Courtney and I started at Ye Olde Cock Tavern, where we enjoyed two cold ones with our lunch. Courtney was feeling bold so she went with a cheeseburger; I went for the taste of London, opting for a steak pie. There is a saying in London, and it is this: “A pie and a pint.” That’s it. That’s the whole saying. But when put on a plate and in a glass, the saying becomes much more. I was feeling quite English, so I called on the London Porter to play the role of sidekick to my steak-and-ale pie and mash potatoes. It was bartender-recommended…and Wally-approved. The only bad part? Having to tell my dad that it might have been the best meat pie I have ever eaten. (Just kidding, dad. Yours are the best. Love you!)

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After eating and drinking, we made our way to a couple more pubs, two of them English, one of them Irish. At each one, we ordered different beers, as we tried to find a different flavor or brew at each pub. To that point, I even ordered an alcoholic cider at one of the pubs, and it was really good.

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All of this drinking, mind you, came mere hours before our attendance at the Lion King musical. However, we may have drank a lot more had the fifth, and final, bar we went to didn’t ask for our IDs. Apparently, Courtney looks younger than 18.) Seeing as this is the first time we have been ID-ed in three months, we weren’t carrying our California-licensed pub-passes. Sucks for that pub, because we’re pretty awesome people.

All in all, our pub crawl was extremely fun. Going to bars that are hundreds of years old and drinking local beers is a great way to get to know a city, and it gave Courtney and I the opportunity to feel like true Londoners for a couple of hours. Well, until we were carded, that is.

Primark:

This is a short story but here it is: Basically, Primark is the awesome store that is always crowded because it is filled with awesomeness. They sell awesome clothes for awesome prices, and I wish the US had one. £15 could buy you an outfit; £100 could buy you a wardrobe. I bought three things, but the damage could have been much worse. Don’t tell my dad.

The Hard Rock Café in London:

London is home to the original Hard Rock Café. Obviously, Courtney and I had to go there because, well, that’s what we do. Florence, Amsterdam, Barcelona, London; four countries checked off in four weeks. Not bad.

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After Earth:

Courtney and I also view cinemas go to the movie theaters a lot, both domestically and abroad. Seeing as London has almost as many movie theaters as bars (seriously, must there really be a movie theater on every street?), Courtney and I found ourselves watching After Earth, the new Will Smith-Jaden Smith, father-son masterpiece. The newsworthy aspect of this was that we enjoyed a private viewing — we were the only people in the entire theater. Rarely, if ever, have I ever felt so VIP-worthy. Sadly, the feeling only lasted two hours.

Riots, Arrests, And Making The News (Maybe):

On our second full day in London, Courtney and I were walking down the street. We weren’t walking anywhere in particular or doing anything noteworthy. And then we saw a guy walking next to us shirtless, with his chest covered in red and green paint. Strange, but nothing incredibly abnormal.

And then some riot police hurriedly walked by us. That was when it started to seem like something was up.

Less than 30 seconds later, we were standing no more than 50 meters (I’ve been abroad for far too long to be using the customary system) from where dozens of riot policemen were chasing down scattering black-hooded, ski mask-equipped figures. Naturally, I insisted that Courtney and I run toward this activity.

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Then, one of these figures was tackled by four riot policemen, pinned to the ground, and arrested. As all of this is happening, Courtney and I see a man in a black hoody walk past us, before throwing his hoody up and running away; it wasn’t exactly the most controlled environment. Mobs of journalists and cameramen soon flooded the streets, with a barrier of riot police the only thing between the cars and those who were being arrested. If you Google “G8 Riots London Picadilly,” you may just find me in a picture or two, taking a photograph with my iPhone. I know, I know. Pretty big deal.

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As Courtney and I watched in amazement for the next ten minutes, we started wondering what had happened. Police were now guarding the entrances to the underground tube stations, and there were more riot police in the street than police on the Menlo Park police force. It was truly a sight to behold.

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This whole time, news stations were trying to get a story, interviewing both protestors and innocent bystanders for their take on the situation. Meanwhile, our friend with the painted chest — a fellow who clearly has a couple screws loose in the head — was taunting the police, running around them like a mouse does a patient cat. Luckily for him, the cat stayed patient and abstained himself from pouncing. About 15 minutes after it began, it was over.

Apparently, it was a protest-gone-violent (or peaceful if you ask those arrested) opposing the G8, something that Google can help you with more than I can. It all began with the police forcing the protestors out of a building which they were occupying, leading to one man’s attempt to jump off the roof. Unfortunately for him (well, probably fortunately in the long run), he was stopped by three policemen. After this, words were exchanged, the policemen were assaulted, and the situation escalated rather quickly. At the time of this writing, there have been 57 arrests; Courtney and I avoided handcuffs — you’re welcome, dad.

Afternoon Tea:

Afternoon Tea menu!

Afternoon Tea menu!

Afternoon Tea is a rather important part of (high) London society. Courtney and I always strive to do what the locals do because there’s no point in traveling if you don’t do anything new.

Because Afternoon Tea is such an integral part of London — it is often used for business meetings or family events — it comes with a hefty price tag. However, Courtney and I did well to find a hotel (hotels are the hosts of these afternoon teas) that was on the cheaper side, without sacrificing much in the way of food or tea.

Now, the food part at one of these things is quite fun. They bring out a three-level stand, with each level holding something different. The bottom held light sandwiches, the best of which (I believe) was the cucumber and cream cheese version. The middle stand held the scones, very likely the best aspect to our food ladder. I know I say this a lot, but they truly were the best scones I have ever had. I mean, that might have been because I had covered them in home-whipped butter and homemade strawberry jam, but that doesn’t take away from their delectableness. The top level gave us the chef’s daily pastries. Obviously, they were good. However, the scones were the best thing we ate, hands down.

So many delicious foods...

So many delicious foods…

Now, it wouldn’t be called Afternoon Tea without tea. And, since the tea was bottomless, Courtney and I each had two personal pots, each a different flavor. We drank Twinings tea and there is a reason they have been London’s go-to tea store for over 300 years: it’s good. Real good. Courtney ordered two fruitier flavors, while I chose on fruity one and one white tea. All of them were good, and I wish (again!) that this could be something Americans do. It’s tasty, revitalizing, and a good way to socialize. Europe, you will be missed greatly.

Classic pic.

Classic pic.

The Lion King Musical:

It was epic; best musical ever.

It was epic; best musical ever.

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Let me say something first before I get all riled up talking about seeing my favorite childhood movie performed live: I wasn’t allowed to take pictures from my seat in the nosebleeds. I am sorry for that.

Aside from that, it was the best live performance I have ever seen. That isn’t saying much, since I don’t attend musicals or plays very often (if ever), but it does mean something. It was a great show, and I hope I can do it justice here.

Seeing my favorite childhood movie brought to life made me feel like a kid again. There is a shortlist of things that make me feel this way: listening to baseball games on the radio, playing catch, baking cookies, dinosaurs, and the Lion King. So seeing it live was incredible for me.

The musical started off with the woman playing Rafiki singing one of the greatest opening songs in movie history. In fact, let’s all take a moment to click this link and listen to it.

Goosebumps, every time.

As the song was being sung, every type of animal that you can make a costume of walked and pranced and flew on stage. Giraffes, gazzelles, zebras, lions, birds, rhinos, a cheetah or two…the whole gang was there. They all slowly surrounded a lifted part of the stage, where Rafiki was holding up Simba, my cinematic counterpart. It was quite the opening scene.

[Seeing as many of you have seen this movie – and because those of you who haven’t seen it probably won’t care because you have no soul know what I am talking about – I won’t detail every minute of the musical. Just the cool important parts. If I did all the cool parts, I would do the whole musical.]

The climax of the movie is, undoubtedly, Mufasa’s death. And it was epic. The performer managed to climb high up the wall on the right side of the stage, attempting to evade the stomping herd destined to trample him; it felt as if the herd was right below Courtney and I, and we were all the way up in the nosebleeds of the theater. But then, the evil Scar pushes him to his end, and we all watched in horror as the king fell to his death. As Mufasa fell, strobe lights lit up the background; there really is no other word that describes it better than ‘epic.’ After the awful death of the king, everybody in attendance…start clapping. I understand why – it was a phenomenally directed scene and everything was done to perfection in terms of presentation – but I refused to clap. I was too busy wiping away the tears after seeing the Pride Land’s king die in tragic, heartbreaking, and backstabbing fashion. It was too much for me; I could not bring my hands together.

Soon after, intermission came. Thank goodness. My little heartstrings were exhausted, and Scar’s betrayal of Mufasa was still fresh in my mind. I needed a mental break, as much as everybody else needed a bathroom one.

Luckily for me, Lion King is not always a sad movie. The second half of the show began with Hakuna Matata. It was expectedly lighthearted and fun, and there may not be a song that better encapsulates how every child’s childhood should feel. No worries, not for the rest of your days. A truly deep and heart-lifting motto.

SPOILER ALERT: The play ended happily, as does the movie. If you haven’t seen it, well, you must be like four years old. Either that or your parents never loved you. Harsh, but probably true. What parent doesn’t show his or her child Lion King?

As for the play itself (and not just the awesome storyline), every actor in it was great. Every personality, every voice was portrayed accurately and passionately, and it should come as little surprise as to why this musical has been so successful. Scar was scary and mean, yet obviously full of insecurities. Mufasa was king-like, up and through his unfortunate death. Zazu was airheaded and funny, often giving the audience a welcomed break from Scar’s antics. Timone and Pumba were, well, Timone and Pumba. And of course, Simba was done masterfully, albeit by two different actors (a young boy and a young man). All the props and sounds made it look and sound just like we were watching the movie at home. I couldn’t have asked for a better performance, and I would highly recommend going and seeing it.

That is it for London, and for my time in Europe. It was fun and all, but I think a certain mother and father miss me very much. Eurotrip has finally come to an end. (Sad face.)

A Short Trip To Edinburgh!

First off, reread the title of this post, except this time do so with the heaviest Scottish accent you can. If you aren’t sure what a Scottish accent sounds like, click here.

Next, imagine you now live in medieval times, when castles that loomed over the entire city were considered normal and people believed in witchcraft.

My first view of Old Town in Edinburgh. Makes sense why I liked it so much...

My first view of Old Town in Edinburgh. Makes sense why I liked it so much…

That is Edinburgh, Scotland, the first stop for Courtney and I on our journey home. We only spent two days in Edinburgh, but we made them count. We toured the city’s castle — a castle that has walls that contain more history than our entire country does — and we walked up and down the Royal Mile, stopping only to pub crawl and shop for souvenirs. We also ventured on a Whiskey tour, where Courtney and I learned about the beginning of whiskey and how it has been made for hundreds of years. Personally, I prefer single malts; Courtney fancies blended malts; Scots don’t care, as long as they are drinking. If you’re going to drink like they do, you might as well take pride and be good at it.

The castle!

The castle!

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The Loch Ness Monster!!!

The Loch Ness Monster!!!

Here is a whole bunch of whiskey that we saw on our tour (warning: it’s a lot):

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A real bagpiper and myself!

A real bagpiper and myself! (And my new favorite hat!)

Courtney and the bagpiper. I wonder if he knows he made it on my blog...

Courtney and the bagpiper. I wonder if he knows he made it on my blog…

They do exist...

They do exist…

Also, a short note about the main gate leading to the inner-workings of the castle is that it has this description inscribed above it: “Nemo me impune lacessit.” Translated to English, that means: “No one attacks me and gets away with it.” I think that would make for a lovely doormat for my father to put on the front step of his house, don’t you?

The motto that shall forever sit above my father's house...

The motto that shall forever sit above my father’s house…

Our trip to Edinburgh also led us to a bar that gave a clinic on how to pour a Guinness correctly. Here is how the pint’s maturation should look, should you find yourself in the lovely position of drinking a Guinness:

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But the best thing we did might just have been the Murder and Mystery walking tour that taught us about all of the (very strange) laws and capital punishments of the city’s history. These laws included this one: If you didn’t like somebody, you could accuse them of being a witch; then, using torture, you needed to draw a confession out of them. If they confessed, they were killed. If they did not confess, they were…tortured until they confessed. Basically, if you didn’t like the way somebody looked at you, you could have them executed in a matter of days. This law was in effect until — and this is not a joke — 1951, with the last confirmed accusal (and conviction) of witchcraft coming in 1943. So…yeah.

Our tour guides were...scary?

Our tour guides were…scary?

Overall, our weekend in Edinburgh, though short, was extremely fun and incredibly cultural. It amazes me how much history is packed into little cities (and countries, such as Scotland) like Edinburgh. The cobblestone roads, the castle overlooking the city, and the long line of pubs creates an historically medieval atmosphere, something that I really enjoyed.

Me, sleeping in my new favorite hat. It makes me look Scottish...

Me, sleeping in my new favorite hat. It makes me look Scottish…

Next post: London!

Bye!

Ultimo Giorno In Italia!

This post is a sad one. Why is that, you may ask? It is sad because this post marks the last day that I will spend in Italy, a realization that I may not truly accept or comprehend until weeks from now, when I am toiling away in the lousy state of California.

I kid, California, I kid. But leaving Italy — my home and my base for the last three months — will not be easy and it is a departure that, at its best, will be bittersweet. Italy was the home to so many memories for not just me but my entire group, and they are memories that will stick with all of us forever; this may have just been the best three months of my life, and it is nearly over. To all of you who have not yet been to Italy: Go. Now. It is an amazing country, and it has anything anybody would ever want: beaches, big cities, small towns, family-owned restaurants, great weather, nice people, incredible food…it’s just an awesome place. I could continue on and on (I did just spend three months here…) but instead, I’ll give you my top three favorite things about Italy, the three things that I am going to miss the most.

  1. Piazzas. Never will I look at a park or a central meeting place for people in the United States the same ever again. The U.S. should get right on this whole piazza train because they are amazing. They bring the community together, they are fun and inviting and full of interesting people, anything can be built around them, they are beautiful, ah…I’m going to miss them so much.
  2. Food, specifically gelato. Obviously you know about the food by now. The pizza is the best in the world, the pasta follows suit, and the portions are big perfect. But I am going to tell you something that you cannot judge me on. (This blog does not allow judgement of any kind — if you think you are going to think less of me after reading this next part, then close the tab and stop reading.) I ate 60 gelatos in Italy. Sixty. You read that right. I spent ten weeks abroad, including sixty days in Italy. I ate gelato sixty times. For those of you who don’t like math, that is precisely one gelato per day. If you eat a bowl of ice cream every day for two months, you would be ecstatic to still be mobile on the sixty-first day. This is how good gelato is (specifically Venchi and Grom): Italy is known for its pasta and pizza (as it should be) but it could single-handedly correct the financial disaster of Europe by having its gelato shipped to other parts of the world. If I could bring some home, I would in a heartbeat. And it wouldn’t be a small amount either. (Obviously.) So when I say that I loved gelato and that I am going to miss it a lot, I mean it. Seriously, if Grom opened up a store within 50 miles of my house in California, I would go there weekly, if not more. Gelato has made ice cream bland, unexciting, boring, purposeless…gelato has rendered ice cream unimportant. Just thinking about how I can no longer walk five minutes (just kidding, more like 25 seconds) to the nearest Grom saddens me deeply, to the point where I may just convince myself I have an addiction. Maybe.
  3. School. Lifestyle. And the beaches. And the people. And the cobblestone roads and the canals of Venice and the history in Rome. I guess I cheated. I said top three, but I lied. Sue me. If you can go to Italy and return home with only three things that you liked or will miss, don’t bother getting off the plane; turn around and go back because you did something wrong. Seriously though, the relaxed way in which Italians live — not everything is about getting everywhere or doing everything mindlessly fast — is something that I will miss a lot. If you don’t do something one day, it’s okay because there will be time to do it tomorrow. And if not tomorrow, the next day. So often in the United States we try to do everything at once, rushing from place to place, only to miss out on the little things that make life so much fun. In Italy, they don’t let you miss out on those little things. They take three hour lunch breaks. They treat everybody like family, even if it means taking a little more time out of their day or a little more money out of their pocket. They play and sing songs in piazzas and celebrate graduations with hilarious style and eat gelato before dinner. Everybody who says to “focus on the smaller things” or “don’t miss the joys of life that are right in front of you” is talking about Italy and how the Italians live. What I have taken away from Italy isn’t measurable (well actually, you can measure my weight so…) or computable. What I have taken away is this: Life isn’t supposed to be just one thing after another, it isn’t supposed to be robotic; you’re not supposed to just wake up, go to school or work, go home, go to sleep, rinse and repeat. It sounds corny, but it makes a whole lot more sense now. The smaller details do matter. You’re supposed to stop and smell the roses. Obviously, if you stop and smell all the roses, you probably won’t get very far in life. But who knows, you just might find what you have spent your entire life searching for. Italy is not a perfect country and not everything went as swimmingly smooth as my blogs sometimes made them out to be. But Italians are good at living life, whether to you that means partying every night or eating the best food made from the best ingredients or eating gelato before dinner. There are plenty of unhealthy ways to live, including eating a gelato a day for two months. But the worst, in my opinion, is living life worried about everything. Because once you stop worrying, you might just realize that the restaurant you pass every day in your effort to find the best Italian food is the one that has everything you’re looking for. Well, everything except gelato.

Ciao, Italy. You have been a good friend and an even better host. Hopefully I will return to you some day, and hopefully that day will come soon. Arrivederci, Italia.

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Spiagge, Sole, E Bevande!

I know, I know. I’m a little behind in my blogging. It’s been almost two weeks since my last post and, obviously, I’ve done a couple cool things since then. The first one on the list (well, at least chronologically) was our two-night, three-day stay in Sperlonga, a small town on one of Italy’s more traditional beaches. This is not the type of place one can describe easily, so instead of talking about how great the sand between my toes felt or how tan I was able to get in two and a half days, I’ll just show you through pictures. As fun as some of my stories sound (and are), even I won’t deny that a pretty or unique picture captures your attention much easier than words might. Here are some to enjoy!

Courtney and Panc playing with a clam...that they may have (accidentally) killed.

Courtney and Panc playing with a clam…that they may have (accidentally) killed.

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Courtney and Mikey at dinner. Yes, they were a tad inebriated. Is it that obvious?

Courtney and Mikey at dinner. Yes, they were a tad inebriated. Is it that obvious?

The view from my room.

The view from my room.

The view from my seat on the beach. Decent spot, right?

The view from my seat on the beach. Decent spot, right?

This guy is stronger than me; he goes to the beach to run, I go to lay down.

This guy is stronger than me; he goes to the beach to run, I go to lay down.

Courtney and I on the beach!

Courtney and I on the beach!

Courtney, Panc, and I on the beach at sunset on our last night in Sperlonga!

Courtney, Panc, and I on the beach at sunset on our last night in Sperlonga!

Italian sunset, Italian beach, Italian wine; the life.

Italian sunset, Italian beach, Italian wine; the life.

THE STOLEN LEMON! (Courtney thought she was clever because she took a softball-sized lemon from a restaurant...it was hilarious, to say the least).

THE STOLEN LEMON! (Courtney thought she was clever because she took a softball-sized lemon from a restaurant…it was hilarious, to say the least).

Happy pic!

Happy pic!

IMG_2491Ciao, Sperlonga! One more full day in Rome and then our time in Italy is over! (Sad face.)

¡Des De Barcelona Hola!

Another weekend, another trip to one of the world’s coolest cities. This time it was Barcelona, and I can’t begin to tell you how grateful I am for my parents, who have always challenged me to see the world and have supported my many trips across Europe these past two months. Hopefully these blogs give them a way to be here with me, because I wouldn’t be here without them.
The first stop on the Barcelona agenda came on Friday morning. The Basilica de la Sagrada Familia, Antoni Gaudí’s most famous work, was unlike any church — or building, for that matter — that I have seen before.
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The first thing you learn about Sagrada Familia is that Gaudí worked on it for the last 43 years of his life…and did not come close to completing it. Today, the church is still under construction, some 90 years after Gaudí’s passing. And it won’t be finished for another 12 years or more. So despite its fame, functionality (mass is held there), and size, a typical church it is not.
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Before you can walk in, you are astounded by the outer layer of the church and its towers and façades. There are hundreds — and maybe even more than a thousand — of sculptures protruding from the church’s walls; they include everything from biblical scenes to colored balls to medieval-looking designs. Even with the towering cranes hovering over it, it is a magnificent structure, with some of the most unusual details you will ever see on a building, regardless of the purpose it serves inside.
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Speaking of the inside, Gaudí put his mark there as well. Though it is not the biggest church I have seen on this trip — it might not even be the second- or third-biggest — the inner construction is still incredible and so obviously the work of Gaudí. The ceiling is many stories high, with spiraling staircases in each corner leading you to the upper balconies. There are sculptures protruding from the walls inside as well, because it wouldn’t be the work of Gaudí if it wasn’t over-the-top. But the pillars holding the church upright were the the most mesmerizing aspects of the inner-workings. They looked like they were made from ice; if the temperature inside was below-freezing, I would be convinced the pillars were made of ice. Though not as gaudy as the outside, the inside was far from ordinary.
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We even got to see some of the restoration/construction!

We even got to see some of the restoration/construction!

After a quick nap following our intense visit to Sagrada Familia, Courtney and I walked around Barcelona, stopping only for bars, lunch, and crepes.
Our first stop came at the Dow Jones Bar (actually click that link, link-skippers) which, true to its name, sells its alcohol much like Wall Street sells stocks. If you order a drink, the price of that drink increases, while the price of every other drink of its kind decreases. For example, if you order a Heineken, the price of Heineken will jump 30-40 cents, while every other beer will see a price cut of five cents for every Heineken ordered. So, like on Wall Street, the idea is to buy low; simple in theory, but you may have to buy a couple of gross stocks before you find a drink that suits your taste buds and wallet. It’s a fun little game to play. Because Courtney and I are so likable, we received tax cuts free shots. Such is life for the charmed few.
Wall Street.

Wall Street.

The "stock market" board!

The “stock market” board!

Maximum and minimum (when it crashes!) prices.

Maximum and minimum (when it crashes!) prices.

Following our short visit to the Dow Jones, we walked a short distance to Rosa Negra, a recommended Mexican restaurant. Though the food would be highly regarded in Washington, for us Californians it was merely above-average. Courtney had been craving tacos for only, like, two months, so that made them a bit better. But the drinks…those were good. (Not as good as drinks at Señor Moose though, father.) Courtney ordered a strawberry mojito while I ordered its cousin, the margarita, in the same flavor. Both were delicious and had more than enough tequila to hold us over for a while.
Of course, no meal would be complete without dessert. And we found dessert only a crosswalk away, at a crepe shop. It was gooood; caramel and nutella have never been put together so deliciously.
Then we walked to the beach where we touched the Mediterranean Sea with our feet. And then we saw a very drunk young man peeing on the beach, the details of which probably don’t need to be shared here.
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Next, we wandered until we found Icebarcelona, the coolest bar in the city (literally). For €15 a each, Courtney and I had a guava-tasting vodka drink (they called it a Sex On Ice) and we drank it in a small room made of ice. The room temperature was below freezing, the glasses themselves were made of ice, and we were given puffy jackets and gloves. It was a cool experience, pun intended.
Ice bar!

Ice bar!

Ice bar...sculpture?

Ice bar…sculpture?

Big puffy jacket.

Big puffy jacket.

Glasses made of ice! Courtney may or may not have eaten part of her glass...

Glasses made of ice! Courtney may or may not have eaten part of her glass…

So cold...

So cold…

After drinking in the ice box — we lasted only 20 minutes in the cold — we headed to a nearby piazza to see a flamenco performance. If you ever go to Spain, go see one. It only lasted 30 minutes, but for €10 we got to see authentic, passionate Spanish dancing and a liter of Spain’s famous sangria. It was quite the performance — the central flamenco dancer looked like latino woman from modern family — and Courtney and I left feeling very much a part of Spanish culture.

The stage. Pretty exciting, I know.

The stage. Pretty exciting, I know.

The lead dancer.

The lead dancer.

The whole gang!

The whole gang!

Following the flamenco performance, Courtney and I went next door to get tapas and more sangria, continuing our submersion into Spanish culture. There, we ordered fried potato tapas with two mystery sauces that might have been the best thing we ate in Barcelona. It was accompanied by the best sangria either of us have ever had. Though it was called thai basil sangria, it tasted more like sweet orange juice. Not that we minded…

Thai basil sangria...so good.

Thai basil sangria…so good.

Our favorite tapas!

Our favorite tapas!

We then went to the Dow Jones bar again. This time, we saw the market “crash” twice and were able to find steals all over the board; the biggest steal that we found was a Guiness for only €3.60!
Cheap (but still expensive in taste) Guinness!

Cheap (but still expensive in taste) Guinness!

The following day, we started a bit later than usual, opting to begin our day with lunch. We went to Barcelona’s famous sandwich shop, Bo de B. There really is no other way to describe it then this: the sandwiches are large and prepared fresh, and people wait in hour-long lines daily to get one. So yeah, it was pretty good.
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After a casual stroll up La Rambla, Courtney and I headed back to the hotel for Courtney’s mid-afternoon nap and to prepare for the weekend’s grand event: the FC Barcelona soccer game!
After the nap — but before the game — Courtney and I went to Pippermint where the only thing bigger than our excitement for the game was their drinks. We only got a 2-liter glass — which was more like a vase — but there was an option to get a 13-liter bowl. Courtney had reservations about drinking that much sangria between the two of us…a select few call that being soft, the rest of the world calls that drinking responsibly.
The drinks are so big!

The drinks are so big!

Even Messi comes here! (He's the little one on the left.)

Even Messi comes here! (He’s the little one on the left.)

After the game, we celebrated our new favorite team’s win with a pitcher of strawberry sangria and a visit to Le Cyrano, the bar where you pour your own drinks. Unsurprisingly, college-aged kids made up the entirety of the bar’s customers. I took this opportunity to order a fernet branca, the drink that Alfred orders every year in Italy when he hopes to see Bruce Wayne away from Gotham and done with his role as Batman. Sorry for the nerdy-ness.
Fernet Branca.

Fernet Branca.

The next day, our time in Barcelona came to an end. But before we boarded our Vueling flight back to Rome, Courtney and I ate at the Hard Rock Café (Florence, Amsterdam, Barcelona all checked off) and went to a nearby theater to see Hangover 3 to cure our third hangover of the weekend.
All in all, Barcelona treated us well, and I cannot wait to go back. (Which, hopefully, will be sooner rather than later!)
Adios and ciao!
It was too sunny for us...

It was too sunny for us…

¡Vayamos FC Barcelona!

The big event of my trip to Barcelona: Watching FC Barcelona, arguably the best team in the world, take on Málaga. I have been a soccer fan ever since my early childhood, playing it on an almost daily basis until college. I have always been one to play more than I watch; I have been to a handful of games (USA women’s World Cup Qualifiers, various SJ Earthquakes games, one game in Verona about a month ago) and rarely watch games on television, outside of the World Cup. I have always wanted to watch more soccer — both live (especially the Seattle Sounders) and on television — but I just haven’t. No real reason, I just haven’t done it. So getting to see a game in person that featured some of the best players not only in Spain but in the world? It was definitely exciting.
A Barcelona necessity.

A Barcelona necessity.

I’ll spare you from an inordinate amount of details, but upon entering the stadium, it was immediately clear that I had never been in a soccer venue — or really and other kind of venue — quite like Camp Nou. It was big, spacious, yet close to the field, and the atmosphere was incredible, even with Barcelona having already clinched the league title.
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While waiting for the game to start, Courtney asked me which positions I played in my soccer career, so I told her. She then mentioned that she liked playing goalie because she could “sit down a lot.” Seriously, that’s what she said.
She then went into detail about the one goal that she scored in her /entire life/. She attributes her one moment of of goal-scoring greatness to the coaching of her father, Tom Arrington. Early in her career, coach (and father) Arrington told her to “always play until the whistle blows.” Sure enough, Courtney’s glory came when everybody else on the pitch stopped playing, thinking there was a foul. But Courtney knew better. She played on, stopping only when the ball was in the back of the net. She then celebrated like this and this and this.
And then she retired. Years of hard work and dedication had propelled her to the top of her sport and, moments later, she was gone. Talk about going out on top
As for the actual game I was supposed to blog about…
Barcelona scored in the 3rd minute, an easy finish for David Villa, one of the top players in Spain — and the world. Another goal came five minutes after — this time from Cesc Fabregas, another Spanish star — before a third was scored only 16 minutes in, giving Barca a 3-0 lead before Courtney could find any reason to act bored. (I kid, she actually thoroughly enjoyed the game, which tells you how well soccer is played overseas.) After a goal from one of Spain’s favorites– Andres Iniesta — Spain’s scoring ended, though it hardly mattered as Málaga could push only one goal across in the second half and looked outmatched in every facet of the game.
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In fact, after the three early goals, Barcelona looked like they preferred toying with Málaga to actually scoring, daring the visiting team to offer up some kind of challenge. That never came, so Barcelona began trying to score with style (and almost did so multiple times), because what is the point of playing if you can’t crack SportsCenter’s “Top 10 Plays.”
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Barcelona makes soccer look so simple, so fun, that you start thinking you can play like them with enough practice. The way they play together should be considered a form of art. It’s fascinating to watch, and it is not hard to see why soccer, when played like that, is loved everywhere overseas. For Barcelona, their possession of the ball went like this: one touch was preferred, two touches were accepted, and three touches were used only in dire situations. Passes were crisp, accurate, and confident, with almost every one being put in the best place for the receiver to succeed.
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Simply put, Málaga was overmatched, and I now see that using Barcelona in FIFA 13 should never be allowed…they have too much talent and precision. It was easily the most exciting and fun game I have ever seen in person, and I am extremely grateful that I had the opportunity to see it. Maybe my parents will support a trip to Brazil next summer for the World Cup
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